At the end of this year, governments around the world will finalise a new international climate change agreement.
Our leaders, meeting at the African Union this week, have one year to stand up for a deal that delivers for African communities on the frontlines of climate change. They must rise to the challenge.
As one of the regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, Africa has most to lose from a weak agreement. From Malawi to Mali, our farmers and pastoralists are struggling with changing seasons. Droughts and floods hit us from Sudan to South Africa.
When drought flattens harvests in the wheat plains of Russia or the US Mid West, it is our people in Egypt and Algeria who face rocketing bread prices.
Yet a weak deal is exactly what we are facing right now. The biggest polluting countries are engineering a race to the bottom that will see each decide exactly what they are themselves prepared to put on the table – regardless of their responsibility for emissions or capacity to reduce them.
And rich countries are even resisting any new concrete commitments on financing to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to our changing climate.
The countries and communities who are least responsible for causing this crisis, but who face its most savage impacts, are being ignored at the talks. Our negotiators are working as hard as ever, but they face impossible political odds in trying to move countries who have huge vested interests in protecting their fossil fuel-based economies and avoiding the kind of climate action the world needs.
Only sustained engagement at the highest political levels can help to change these dynamics. Our heads of state and government and ministers must make their voices heard on key issues in the new deal that are vital for Africa’s interests.
First, our leaders should ensure that this agreement sets a target for new and increased resources flowing for adaptation to climate change into Africa and other vulnerable regions.
Our Africa Group of negotiators has proposed that weaker global emissions cuts and higher temperatures should mean more adaptation finance for those who will bear the costs. It needs our continual support at every opportunity this year.
Second, our leaders must ensure that countries are delivering their fair share of emissions cuts. Here in Africa, we are not sitting still and waiting for hand-outs in order to build renewable energy.
In South Africa, the government plans to double the amount of power from renewables next year, while in Ethiopia over 2,000 kilometres of electric railways powered by renewable energy are under construction.
But we can go further if we receive adequate support from rich countries, and if we see them leading the way. In Paris, developed countries should commit to ending the use of fossil fuels by the second half of this century, and help us to leapfrog the fossil fuel era.
Let’s demand that level of ambition from our negotiating partners, whose riches have been built on the back of the fossil fuels that we must now move beyond.
And finally, if those country pledges are still too low to avoid warming of 1.5oC, then we must demand a process to increase them after Paris. We can’t leave a weak Paris deal as the final word on climate action for the next decade or more.
Winnie Byanyima is executive director of Oxfam International.